Debating India

Diversionary tactics

LYLA BAVADAM

Wednesday 17 December 2003, by BAVADAM*Lyla

Article paru dans Frontline, Volume 20 - Issue 25, December 06 - 19, 2003.

The Shiv Sena’s recent attacks on north Indians in Mumbai, allegedly for `taking away’ the jobs that are due to Maharashtrians, are in keeping with the party’s parochial outlook and deflect attention from the real roots of the unemployment problem.

in Mumbai

RAVI KUMAR TRIVEDI is so frightened by the recent attacks on Biharis in Mumbai that he prefers to introduce himself just as Ravi Kumar. "That way I can be from any part of India," he says. His friend and employer, Santosh Tiwari, who has been running an illegal paan shop on a Mumbai pavement for years, laughs and tells him a name change need not stop a mob from targeting him. His advice: "Get rid of your shendi first." While Trivedi self-consciously touches the tuft of hair at the back of his head, Tiwari says: "You are what you are, so forget about changing that." The odd fact is that neither man is from Bihar. Both are from Uttar Pradesh, but they realise that Shiv Sena activists targeting so-called `outsiders’ are in no mood to make such distinctions. To the Sena, any one from North India is a bhaiyya.

Tiwari came to Mumbai about 18 years ago. He remembers his early days in the city as being a struggle. He says: "But there was no fear for my safety. In fact, I was safer here than in my own village." Like other migrants he was attracted to Mumbai by its promise of a livelihood. He had no intention of settling in the city. He visited his family in the village once a year. During his absence he put a fellow Bihari in charge of the paan stall.

The city has been good to Tiwari and so he believes that the recent attacks by the Sena will fizzle out. In fact, a month before the attacks, he had found a job for his nephew in Mumbai and planned to send him some money for the journey to the city. Would he change or even postpone his plans now? "There’s no need," he asserts confidently. For those who were beaten up by Sena activists Tiwari’s confidence may seem foolhardy, but he knows the way the city works.

Mumbai is dependent on so-called `outsiders’ for a number of unskilled jobs. Over the years, certain jobs in the city - such as that of liftmen, security guards, taxi drivers and tea stall owners - have come to be associated with immigrants from North India. Evidently, the very fact that the jobs do not require any special skills makes them easier to get. It is also a common phenomenon that migrants work hard. Encouraged by economic success, which they would not have had in their home States, migrants work harder than the local people. Another reason why Tiwari feels that the attacks are not a major problem is the growing confidence of immigrants. Within hours of the violence in the Mumbai suburb of Kalyan, non-Maharashtrians in the towns of Nashik Road and Devlali held a silent morcha to protest against the Shiv Sena’s actions. More are being planned by various associations of North Indians in Mumbai.

THE issue of `outsiders’ is an old one for the Sena. So what exactly triggered the latest outburst? According to the Sena, about eight lakh `outsiders’, primarily from Bihar, travelled to Mumbai to appear for the Railway Recruitment Board’s (RRB) examination for 2,000 posts of gangmen, helpers and khalasis (unskilled labourers). (Unfortunately, the Railways has not issued figures to dispute or substantiate this claim.) On November 18, Sena activists ransacked the RRB’s office at Mumbai Central station, demanding that all applications from `outsiders’ be rejected. Two days later, Sena supremo Bal Thackeray wrote an editorial in the party-run newspaper Saamna on the "unimaginable" dangers posed by "outsiders" taking away jobs that are due to Maharashtrians. Thackeray asked: "If Biharis are as hardworking as Laloo Prasad Yadav says they are, why don’t they work hard in Bihar?" He added: "Why is that North Indians are getting a better deal and local Maharashtrians are victimised in their own land? The rules have to change and the Maharashtrian youth is willing to shed his blood for that." Raj Thackeray, Bal Thackeray’s nephew, threatened: "This is just the trailer, just see what happens to these Biharis and bhaiyyas if they do not heed our warning." Meanwhile, Shiv Sainiks took up the `duty’ of "removing all outsiders" and named their latest scheme `Bihari Ani Bhaiyya Bahar Kada Mohim’ (the movement to drive away all Biharis and bhaiyyas).

On November 21, Kalyan witnessed violent incidents as Shiv Sainiks boarded the Lokmanya Tilak-Varanasi Express as it entered the station at 1.30 pm. Lathi-wielding, saffron-clad men and women attacked anyone they thought was a bhaiyya. Some passengers were hauled off incoming trains and pushed into trains leaving Mumbai with a warning not to return. Encouraged by the inaction of the police, who pleaded inability to handle the mob because of the crowds at the station, the Shiv Sainiks even questioned passengers waiting on the platform about their statehood. Ravi Kapote, Sena chief of Kalyan, later announced that about 250 people were attacked. No complaint was lodged at the local police station.

Following this, the Sena warned the RRB that it would not let the examinations be conducted on November 23. Thackeray wrote: "Come what may, we will not allow the RRB examinations on Sunday, and will do whatever we have to achieve our objective." The RRB postponed the examinations indefinitely. Emboldened by the failure of the State government to take any action against it, the Shiv Sena plans to go ahead with its plans. Kapote said that the Sena would target all Biharis and bhaiyyas who work in the city.

Violence has come to be associated with the Sena. Now the statement highlights another characteristic of the party - doublespeak. While middle-rung leaders like Kapote talk of attacking all Biharis in Mumbai, Thackeray says that he is not against Biharis per se but against all those people who are not domiciled in the city, that is, those who came to Mumbai after 1995. Thackeray wrote in Saamna that he did not expect all jobs in the State to go to Maharashtrians. His demand was that the D-category jobs - in the Railways, this category refers to unskilled labour - should be reserved for local people. He added that this should be the case not only for Maharashtra, but in every State. The `solution’ is obviously not as simple as it seems and displays his ignorance about larger issues of regional inequalities.

Although it is a fact that the number of unemployed people in the State is rising, it is not because of the "stealing" of jobs by migrants. Facts released by State Labour Minister Satish Chaturvedi during the Budget session of the Maharashtra State Assembly in March identify a fall in industrial capacity as the culprit. In the last three years, more than 18,000 industrial units were shut down, leaving about 3,25,000 workers jobless. In 2000, as many as 4,641 units were closed, and the following year 6,764 more were added to the list. The year 2002 alone saw the closure of 6,739 units. The Minister revealed that out of 28,069 establishments categorised by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation as small-scale industries, 3,427 had been closed by June 2002. A regional presentation of closures within Maharashtra showed that the Konkan region was the worst hit. Out of the 8,425 units in Mumbai, Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts, 1,402 were closed down by June 2002. In the Thane industrial belt, 1,193 units out of a total of 6,365 have downed shutters. Pune division ranks highest in industrial sickness.

IN the 37 years of its existence, the Shiv Sena has learnt a furtive sort of diplomacy, which is manifested in the tendency of its leaders to tailor party ideology to the character and feelings of the audience they are addressing. While addressing businessmen, an infrequent but growing trend among Sena leaders, the Sena spiel is radically different from the speeches at smaller and more intimate gatherings, primarily of activists and supporters in Mumbai’s suburbs. Audiences with secular credentials would never hear what a crowd at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park would. The bhaiyya issue, for instance, has been simmering for a while. At the frequent rallies he used to address at Shivaji Park in the mid-1990s, Thackeray would refer to the "takeover" of certain jobs, like those of liftmen, security guards and taxi drivers, by bhaiyyas.

The Sena’s origins are well known. The party was formally launched in 1966 to `protect’ the interests of the local people or `the sons of the soil’. The Sena wanted to reserve 80 per cent of the jobs in the State for Maharashtrians. At that time the term Maharashtrians was used to refer to people who spoke Marathi. However, political considerations have now forced the Sena to say that the term refers to all those domiciled in the State prior to 1995. In his book Politics of Modern Maharashtra, V.M. Sirsikar writes: "Marmik [a Marathi weekly started by Thackeray] published statistics (which were often half truths) regarding persons employed in various offices, which led the laymen to believe that job selections were not made on merit, but there was discrimination against Maharashtrians. Unemployed and frustrated youth especially found it easier to believe Shiv Sena propaganda rather than study and verify the facts. Parochial to the point of being paranoid, the party was best known for its attacks on Gujarati and South Indian business establishments, believing them to be threats to Maharashtrian interests." Sirsikar says that the Samyukta Maharashtra movement had mobilised Maharashtrians and the Sena played on the pride of statehood by claiming that jobs in the Maharashtrians’ `own city’ of Bombay (Mumbai) were monopolised by South Indians. The increasing number of jobless but educated youth fell easy prey to the Sena’s propaganda.

As the party grew stronger, so did its policy of pitting the local people against `outsiders’. When it was realised that no political gains could be made from stepping up the efforts to drive out non-Maharastrians, the Sena changed its tactics. Thackeray said further migration, especially to Mumbai, should be halted. However, it was old wine in new bottle and the victimisation of migrants continued with minor variations in the intensity of violence or by changes in the communities targeted for attack. By targeting South Indians, Gujaratis and now North Indians, the Sena continues to deflect popular attention from the real issues.

The fact is that the Sena still holds on to in its original `sons of the soil’ policy. It is believed that the Kalyan violence was a part of the build-up to the Assembly elections next year. Unemployment is a growing concern in the State and the Sena is expected to make it a campaign issue. The party is treading a fine line right now. To highlight the cause of unemployed Marathi-speaking youth alone would befit the party’s `sons of the soil’ policy, but it would alienate non-Maharashtrian voters. The last Census showed that the number of voters who are originally from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and are now domiciled in Mumbai have gone up to 8 per cent in the last 30 years. Naturally, the vote-conscious Sena will have to tread carefully, and more so because of its hopes of establishing a base in the northern States. Attempts have been made to play down the party’s parochialism, and one such was the launch of the `Mee Mumbaikar’ campaign (Frontline, May 23). Although it was advertised as a campaign to instil pride in the city’s inhabitants regardless of his or her roots, it was just a cover-up for the party’s xenophobia.

P.S.

Pic: PAUL NORONHA; Shiv Sena activists obstruct a suburban train in Mumbai.

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